Saturday, October 25, 2008

Top 13 Angsty Drifting Lost Boys

A while back, Nathan Rabin, an excellent writer for The Onion's AV Club, came up with the phrase Manic Pixie Dream Girl to describe that particular filmic stock character that, in his words, "exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures." A.) That's awesome. B.) I started wondering, "Well, what's the male equivalent?"

Certainly not Manic Pixie Dream Boy. Because first off, that sounds kinda gay. And secondly, I'm not talking about male versions of MPDGs--I thinking more along the lines of the men these women gravitate to. By the by, the nature of that gravity is hotly contested, IN MY OWN HEAD! Do the guys go for the girls first? Or do the girls baste the guys with come-ons, and then run away to be chased? After a few hours worth of thought and college football, I decided that there really is no pursuit in these types of relationships. They just seem to happen, they fall into place. The boy and girl follow each other around, wreaking havoc on each other's lives, and by the end, they will kiss and all will be well. The chase happens on an almost subconscious level. So... yeah... here are the dudes I came up with.

13. Luke Wilson in Bottle Rocket

Anthony: One morning, over at Elizabeth's beach house, she asked me if I'd rather go water-skiing or lay out. And I realized that not only did I not want to answer THAT question, but I never wanted to answer another water-sports question, or see any of these people again for the rest of my life.

Some chick: Wow, you're really complicated.

Anthony: I try not to be.

In all reality, Anthony Adams is nowhere near the most lost or drifting character in this film--and his angst is pretty questionable too, frankly. He’s a good looking (albeit directionless) guy with a mid-90s haircut and a ridiculous best friend, and he kinda-sorta spent some time in a mental hospital, oh, but it was a voluntary stay and it was for exhaustion? As soon as he meets—and soon after beds—the maid at his hotel, his let-me-brush-the-hair-out-of-my-face-while-I-squint-aimlessly-at-the-future mystique fades into a warm, vague new lease on life. Oh well. It was a good look while it lasted.

12. Alain Delon in Le Samourai

Jeff Costello: I never lose. Never really.

Angsty in the sense that he is French. Drifting in the sense that the cops are after him for a botched hit. Lost in the sense that his hope is pretty much lost. Boy in the sense that Alain Delon looked 12 years old until he was 45. BTW, this is probably the coolest movie ever, in that 60s, I’m-going-to-freak-out-on-pills-and-dance-to-crazy-jazz sense of cool.

11. Gene Kelly in An American in Paris

Jerry Mulligan: What gets me is, I don't know anything about her. We manage to be together for a few moments and then off she goes. Sometimes we have a wonderful time together and other times it's no fun at all. But I got to be with her.

Gene Kelly angsty? Well, as angsty as one can be while dancing with the American In Paris Ballet Ensemble to the strains of George Gershwin.

10. Vincent Gallo in Buffalo ‘66

Billy Brown: There was nobody that I liked because girls stink. They stink. They're evil. And they're all bad. They're backstabbers, like you.

Fun fact. Vincent Gallo pees on my high school in this movie. Well, on the grounds of it, at least. This film also gives off the impression that Buffalo is stuck inside a bowling alley from the 70s. That impression is not altogether inaccurate.

9. Martin Sheen in Badlands 

Tagline: He was 25 years old. He combed his hair like James Dean. She was 15. She took music lessons and could twirl a baton. For a while they lived together in a tree house. In 1959, she watched while he killed a lot of people.

I hesitate (slightly) to include a character based on Charles Starkweather on this list, but what the heck, he’s charmingly psychopathic. One thing that gets me about these films is that the love stories usually don’t require initial pursuit… it is as if the boy and girl magically land upon each other, that their coupling was preordained and prescribed and to be expected. In Badlands, Kit doesn’t spend the first forty pages of the script chasing after Holly, the middle ten in a sweet montage meant to convey marital bliss, and the last forty making up to her for that stupid bet he made on page three. He walks up to her, they talk for a while, eventually they are in love and he kills her father. She just sort of accepts these as a series of facts in her life.

8. Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate

Mr. Braddock: Ben, what are you doing?

Benjamin: Well, I would say that I'm just drifting. Here in the pool.

Mr. Braddock: Why?

Benjamin: Well, it's very comfortable just to drift here.

Let me first say that I’ve watched this film once since I graduated from college. It was a hard, hard experience. When I was younger and I watched this, what got to me was how unearned his angst was. I thought, “That guy is rich. He has a sweet car. Why so serious?” (Okay, I didn’t make that joke because that would be a blatant anachronism. CONTINUITY ALERT!) But now, it seems doubly painful that a guy should reach the honorable age of 22 and realize that his life is not, in fact, over—only the structured part is. What’s left are years and years of uncertainty and you can either choose to drift or to act, with the knowledge that both are equally likely to disappoint. (UM. THAT was a downer. Quick, look at this!)

7. Zach Braff in Garden State

Andrew Largeman: Maybe that's all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place. 

Oh man. Was there ever a harsher backlash victim than Garden State? (Well, yeah… Juno, I guess.) And was Zach Braff really to blame for the great Emo Outbreak of 2004? (Or was that just one more thing to pin on Al Qaeda?) However you choose to answer these fake questions, one thing is clear. Beyond all the hype, the anti-hype, the soundtrack, the parodies, the fervent fans, and the Scrubs that would not, could not die… this was, at one point, a beautiful, small film. And at the core of it, there was an angsty, drifting, lost boy who fell swiftly, almost inevitably in love with his manic, pixie, dream girl.

6. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed

Billy Costigan: You don't have any cats.

Madolyn: No.

Billy Costigan: I like that.

Yeah, this is a stretch. I just thought I’d try to sneak it in and hopefully no one would notice.

5. Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 

Joel: If only I could meet someone new. I guess my chances of that happening are somewhat diminished, seeing that I'm incapable of making eye contact with a woman I don't know.

Commenters were up in e-arms the exclusion of Kate Winslet’s portrayal of Clementine from the AVClub’s list of the Top 16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls. (Yes, there are other websites that tabulate pop-culture factoids in list form.) Well, that’s fine and probably true, but I think Jim Carrey knocked this one out of the ADLB Park, dude! (ADLB is the abbreviation I just invented for Angsty Drifting Lost Boy—MAKE IT HAPPEN!) From that wooly sweater that almost threatens to devour him to the shaggy mop of hair that should have been trimmed three weeks ago to those bizarre, yet touching sketches of skeletons… I mean, the guy was working overtime and every minute was worth it.

4. Timothy Hutton in Beautiful Girls 

Willy: I just want something beautiful.

Mo: Shit, Willy, we all want something beautiful...

Here is a good way to tell if you are playing an ADLB. 1.) Are you going to your high-school reunion? 2.) Are you spending a lot of time drinking with old buddies? 3.) Are you opening up old wounds in the process? 4.) Does nothing seem to be going right for any of you—although for them, that means their relationships are in shambles and there are no jobs to be found, while for you that means you’re not sure if you want to marry your pretty hot girlfriend. 5.) (And this is probably the most important…) Are you spending your free time pursuing a dangerously ambiguous, but potentially poignant relationship with the 12 year-old Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl-in-training next door? If you said yes to any of these, you’re probably an ADLB. If you said yes to all of them, and you aren’t Timothy Hutton, your screenwriter is a dirty plagiarist.

3. Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver

Travis Bickle: Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There's no escape. I'm God's lonely man. 

A while back, those crazy YouTube trailer mash-ups were really in vogue. (I think it was right when we decided we were living in a post-9/11 world… which was like, 2003.) Anyway, there was one in which Taxi Driver was spun into an emo-infused rom-com, with the help of that Postal Service song from Garden State. It was pretty funny and I laughed enough to watch it again, because I missed a part. And it got me thinking… “Huh, this isn’t actually too far off from the emotional core of the original. Y’know, without all the swearing.” Angsty? As fuck. Drifting? Through 12-hour shifts. Lost? In New York, no. In LIFE? Yah-huh.

2. Joseph Cotton in The Third Man

Holly Martins: I'm just a hack writer who drinks too much and falls in love with girls.

Um, yeah. I can’t really beat that quote. One question, though: is the Manic Pixie in this film actually Orson Welles? WHAT. My understanding of great film just exploded behind my left eyeball.

1. John Cusack in Grosse Pointe Blank (also Better Off Dead, Say Anything, The Sure Thing, etc…)

Marty: I was sitting there alone on prom night, in a goddamn rented tuxedo, and my whole life flashed before my eyes. And I realized finally, and for the first time, that I wanted to kill somebody. So I figured since I loved you so much, it'd be a good idea if I didn't see you anymore… So I was in the Gulf last year--I was doing this thing—anyway, I came up over this dune, and I saw the ocean... and it was on fire. The whole thing, on fire, and it was beautiful. So I just sat there and watched it, and that's when I realized there might be a meaning to life, you know, like an organic power that connects all living things, God, Yahweh, I dunno.

So, this was actually the character that inspired me to write this list. Maybe it isn’t even the character, maybe it’s the Cusack… I mean, for a span of like, ten years back there, he just played some brilliant fraction of the same guy and people loved him for it. There’s this one look he has, where his eyes are WIDE open and his mouth is pursed tight… it looks like he’s thinking, “Man, everyone around me is almost too ridiculous to function, but then again, I’m too broken to care, so where are the real killers here, man?” I get why girls go for that look. It goes beyond nursing sick puppies back to health. These guys are looking for a shot at redemption, and usually when they find it, it’s got a girl’s name. That’s not a bad gig, being some guy’s redemption.


Rob said...


El Gigante said...

Tom Hanks' Joe Banks in Joe Vs. The Volcano, represent.

Peter said...

Indeed, indeed... that's a film I have gone way too long with out revisiting.

PS, Rob: I watched Good Will Hunting the other day, with the deleted scenes. There is one where Matt Damon says straight to the camera, "Rob, please stop calling me." Did you know about that? I thought it was kind of weird...